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Conversations With America: The State Department’s Internet Freedom Strategy

MR. CROWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Department of State in Washington, DC. I’m P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. And thank you for joining us for another version of Conversations With America, where we talk about some of the most significant diplomatic and development and international issues of the day.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an important speech on internet freedom. And here to join us today we have Mike Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Welcome.


MR. CROWLEY: And we have Leslie Harris, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Welcome.

MS. HARRIS: That’s right. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: So, I should start off by just saying what do we mean by internet freedom, and why is it important in light of recent events, particularly in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, the subject of internet freedom for us is about an open media, open internet. We put ourselves on the side of free speech, free expression, free assembly, free association. And in today’s world, the new means of electronic communications give people a greater ability to talk among themselves within a country and to speak to the world. So we’re putting our money behind, and our diplomatic power behind, the notion that a free, open, neutral internet across borders in the world’s interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Unless they – obviously, what we see with what happened in Egypt is both the opportunity that technology represents but also the danger in terms of how that technology can be employed by states as well as individuals.

MS. HARRIS: So, certainly, there’s that danger from states. But on balance, if we’re able to build out a model of the internet that supports openness, that supports innovation, that supports freedom, we’re building the underpinnings of not just democracy but economic growth and personal empowerment around the world. So I don’t think that countries ought to be afraid of the internet, or individuals afraid of the internet, because either – of its potential to be a double-edged sword or the fact that, once you open up a medium, there’s good things that happen and bad things. And we’ve got to move forward on this. I think the United States , Western Europe, countries who have adopted an internet that is basically open for innovation and for business have been transformed and done well. The challenge now is that we have counter-models open for the economic growth and not open for political discussion, personal empowerment, and democracy-building. I think the role for the United States and, frankly, the role for other democracies who have embraced the internet is to make sure that, as the next three billion people come online, that at the end of the day it’s our vision of the internet that we prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: Michael, probably the – picking up on what has happened here with a transformation in Tunisia, in Egypt, how do you interpret the role that the internet or social media have played in the events that we’ve seen over the past few weeks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: A couple of things. One is, in a place like Egypt or Tunisia, the governments had lessened the space for people to organize, to operate, to communicate, to form organizations and have public meetings. So the internet became the town square, the place that they could – people could actually work with one another, communicate, and begin to build a social movement. What we saw in both places is that people – young people, in particular – view the communications via the internet, by mobile phones, as a way to basically organize and form an alternative set of power.

MR. CROWLEY: And we’ve seen that governments have recognized the potential and the power that these tools represent. Now they – in the case of Egypt, they actually literally were able to shut down the entire internet, but it didn’t stop the protests.

ASSISTANT SECRETRY POSNER: Yeah, because this is ultimately about people; it’s not just about technology. People in these societies were – have been and are frustrated by years of not being – having democratic societies, having the ability to participate in their countries’ political life. So they were determined to change. The technology gave them tools to make that process happen faster. And it’s interesting; when the Government of Egypt said we’re going to shut down the internet, they only could do it for a few days because the internet is now an essential tool of commerce, of – it’s essential for every aspect of a modern society. You can’t live without it. And so they essentially had, at some point, to say we’ve got to put it up and running or our whole country’s going to fall apart.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s really right. There’s this concern about shutting down the internet. And what happened in Egypt was absolutely unprecedented, and I’m not sure that people understand that. There’s enormous blocking of content going on in non-democratic countries. We’ve had sort of sporadic blocking of Facebook or Twitter in – during the Green Revolution in Iran. We’ve had some activities in – I continue to call it Burma – but we have –


MS. HARRIS: But we have not had this sort of disappearing of the Egyptian country code off of what’s essentially a highly interconnected system. At the end of the day, it was extraordinarily self-defeating, because it just added more flames to the fire of what was going on in terms of the democracy groups, and it was too late. It was really fascinating, because – the Assistant Secretary is correct – it is about people, and the people had already gotten themselves organized.

But it also just destroyed the economy for three days, and I think there’s a lot of lessons that need to be looked at coming out of that Egyptian experience, and I think one question is whether or not the non-free countries will look at that as a solution or they will be more reluctant. And I don’t know the answer to that.

MR. CROWLEY: What was the situation in Egypt prior to January 25? How much penetration had social media and the internet occurred in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we – I was there, actually, a couple of times in 2010 early in the year in January and then in October. And there – we saw throughout the year a growing number of bloggers who were out there raising a range of concerns about torture, about a lot of subjects that had been taboo. The government was cracking down on some of them. I met one guy who had been arrested several times precisely because he was a blogger and people were paying attention. So you could see that the energy was growing around the use of these new technologies to get information out, and the government didn’t quite know how to respond other than to crack down on individuals.

But at a certain point, they lost control of that and many more people started to blog, and these organizations like the April 6 movement began to use the internet as a tool to communicate not only with a small group, but with an increasingly broad group of Egyptian society.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, it’s a fascinating example, because Egypt had not really moved to a highly censored, controlled internet like some countries. They controlled what was happening by prosecutions at the top level, going after bloggers. But people were very discouraged. One of my colleagues was there a couple of weeks before doing some training on internet policy, because ultimately, as these countries change – and I hope we get some opportunity as – with the new Egypt – you have to put the policies in place that support freedom. And they were very dispirited and did not believe that they really had that much power, not withstanding that they all had access to the internet. So to see that transformation happen in a matter of weeks, I think, was extraordinary.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, what should some of those policies be?

MS. HARRIS: Well, policy on the internet starts at a layer that most of us don’t understand and don’t care to. It starts at a standards level, it goes to what rules do we impose on internet service providers, are we going to make them liable for the content that comes over their networks? We don’t do that in the United States. We have a lot of voluntary compliance, voluntary good acting. The same at the applications level; we have strong protections for intermediaries.

We – in this country, we don’t license at the various levels. Other countries do, but you have licensing schemes that turn the entities into basically arms of the government – big, big problem with how Egypt is set up and how those companies had to respond given how they are licensed in that country.

So all the way up to the questions of basic free speech, criminal libel, how much free speech you have – you have to look at these policies, you have to look at the surveillance policies, the surveillance technology mandates. We’re struggling with a lot of the same questions here, and we’ve had hearings in the United States’ Congress this week on some of the same questions.

We have to be very careful, because as Secretary Clinton said in her speech, we do have these big questions – security, freedom, copyright ownership, free flow of information, confidentiality. But now that the United States is out there as much as it is on internet freedom, we have an additional obligation when we’re adopting our own policies that may work here, because we are in a rule-of-law country, to understand what the broader implications could be. And as a country like Egypt, I hope starts afresh, we need to be constantly the role model for struggling with these difficult concerns and coming down, as the Secretary said, on the side of openness.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, there are tensions here. Just as ordinary people use social media to communicate, so do bad actors, terrorists, and so forth. How do we try to balance off the openness, the – having the internet as a true public square, and yet provide sufficient oversight so the government can understand what is being done and try to perhaps stop the internet from being used as a destructive force, even as you encourage it to be used as an empowering force?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think we have to go back to our first principles. We believe in free speech, but we have limits on speech. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. We have concerns about speech that immediately incites violence. So we are – we have rules about pornography and keeping pornography out of the public domain for children, for example. We have to be very mindful that this is – we’ve sort of amplified some of those discussions because of the power of this medium.

But it’s the same discussion. We need to be aware of the challenges, and that – one of the things, I think, Secretary Clinton did this week was to say we stand on the side of openness, but we’re doing this with our eyes open, and we are, in fact, going to be responsible in the way we deal with national security issues, with law enforcement. We’re not going to pretend those things don’t exist, but we’re going to always lean on the side of as much openness as possible and trying to have a neutral venue, a forum, a platform where people can communicate openly. For political purposes, for innovation, for education, for trade, we’re going to try to keep the platform open and neutral.

MS. HARRIS: And we’re not there yet. We are a beacon and we’re not there yet. Obviously, the answer to some of these bad actor questions is we don’t disappear law enforcement out of the equation when we move to the internet.

But in the United States, we’re operating on laws about the government’s access to information online that never – that did not anticipate the environment we’re in now. So if you store something on your computer or in your desk, you have Fourth Amendment protections. For the most part, all that we’re storing online is subject to very low legal standards. So we need to take some actions here to raise the bar, even when we’re talking about these challenges, or we will find ourselves, not in a position to be able to go to the rest of the world and tell them that we have the answers.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: One of the things, P.J., last year, Secretary gave a speech on the same subject at the Newseum about a year ago. And it was sort of a clarion call. It was saying this is a big subject, we’re going to be involved, we’re going to play a leadership role.

The speech this week was a more reflective speech saying, okay, we’ve got a year evaluation of this and we recognize that there are all these challenges, these contradictions, if you will. And we’re going to take those things seriously, but we’re going to redouble our efforts to be leaders on this notion of an open internet. So I think it’s an important speech both because it is such a clear call to leadership for us, but at the same time it’s a recognition of the challenges we face.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but is this a case – and how do you balance legitimate, sovereign interests a state might have versus coming up with a standard that is more global? Who will ultimately set the rules of the road?

MS. HARRIS: This is, I think, the biggest challenge for the internet going forward. For the first period of time, it was principally an American creation and it was easier to figure that out. We’re now in an environment, we’ve got – I don’t remember the figures exactly – 2 billion online and perhaps 3 billion to go, and therefore, the challenge is completely different. We operate in an environment where when you put data in the cloud, it could actually be in – anywhere in the world.

So our traditional questions of jurisdiction that the Assistant Secretary and I learned in law school a long time ago – (laughter) – absolutely don’t fit this environment. Questions of which government should have access to the information, which privacy law ought to apply, are enormous challenges. And we have to figure out some kind of global governance bodies that don’t force us into a race to the bottom. There are some calls around the world for governance bodies, like the UN, where we would be negotiating what works on the internet or what ought to work with countries who have very, very different values.

I’m hoping that in the first instance, that we can reach agreement with other democratic governments on what we believe the right policy principles are, so that we can start demonstrating the way that the Internet should be governed cross borders. But the questions of who should manage the internet in a global environment is the thorniest andthe biggest challenge. I know from my organization, we’ve spent 17 years on the 1 and 2.0 versions of this governance question, and now we have to confront this 3.0 question

MR. CROWLEY: I know we’ll come back to that issue as we take some questions from our viewers.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, sure.

MR. CROWLEY: But the Secretary in her speech did start and focus on Egypt, but she also mentioned a number of other countries where perhaps they haven’t hit the kill switch entirely, but they certainly, in the case of a China or a Vietnam or a Burma or others, are restricting access to the internet and access to information. What’s been our experience in those countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I think one experience is that we have to – there’s not a one size fits all response to this. Different countries do this in different ways. The Chinese, for example, employ a number of people monitoring what’s out there and taking it down. In the last few days, we’ve seen the word Egypt and the words Hillary Clinton have disappeared from the internet in Egypt – in China. And so that takes a lot of doing in a country with a billion, three hundred million people. I don’t think that’s sustainable.

But we have to be, I think, creative, innovative. We’ve got to use technology, and we’ve got to be responsive to people who are trying in each of these countries to figure out both have to navigate around the restrictions on content and at the same time protect their own personal privacy. What we’ve seen in a lot of countries is that countries – China, again, would be an example, there are many more – governments use technology, use the internet, to put out false information, to dissemble information and also to go after people by taking their own personal information and using it for their own security purposes.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, China reacted to the Secretary’s speech relatively negatively. By the same token, don’t they have a growing number of bloggers who are – and to what extent are they able to find a way to stay connected despite the government’s efforts?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: History is on our side here. This is – in the long term, we’re betting on openness, and we’re betting on a neutral platform where lots of stuff is out there. Some of it we’re going to like; some of it we’re not going to like. But we’re believing that more free speech, more association is in our national interest and the world’s national interest. The Chinese are betting that they can have an internet that deals with economy and things that they’re prepared to talk about, but they’re not going to have that more robust, open discussion. I think that they can’t sustain that.

MR. CROWLEY: Just by the nature of the name of your organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, can technology make societies more democratic in the long run?

MS. HARRIS: Well, I agree with the Secretary. People make countries more democratic in the long run. . Assuming more and people come online and participate, it is very, very difficult to control —- I agree with the assistant secretary. I’m betting on the side of the people, when we’re talking about – I think the numbers are staggering about how many blogs, micro blogs, et cetera exist, staggering numbers. There is no way that technology is going to defeat that over the long run.

The challenge for the United States and for free countries is that we have now these two models of the internet. We have the Chinese model that says we can have economic growth and prosperity because of this new technology and somehow put the political situation aside, and then we have our system. We ought to be using trade, diplomacy, aid all around the world, all the tools that are at our disposal, to make sure that it’s our vision and not the Chinese one that prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: And what do we do in terms of providing support to try to keep people – ensure they have access to the – to these technologies, and, if necessary, try to defeat some of the walls that other countries put up.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, Congress has generously appropriated funds. We’ve spent about $20 million to date. We have a $30 million appropriation. We’re now getting the money out. And what we’re looking at is really three things: trying to circumvent the controls that the Chinese and others put on content, and the second phase is to try to protect – use technology and smart thinking to protect users and protect their privacy and protect their ability to operate, and the third thing is to work with activists and do training and to work country by country, really figuring out what’s the people part of this, how do we figure out who are the prime users, how do we get the right kind of information into their hands, how do we work with them so that they’re effective in the use of this technology in close societies.

We’ve got a lot of places in the world where people simply don’t even know what technology is available to them, and they don’t know what the risks are. We have to be out there in a very thoughtful and smart way, trying to figure out how to help them.

MR. CROWLEY: And what’s the balance, say, a country in Africa, where if you can find a way to connect somebody with a cell phone, to the internet, access to information, that has – one set of circumstances. But then, of course, you have a country like Iran, where if you are seen as helping these groups, actually, in some cases, you can put them in greater danger. How do we achieve both of those objectives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, it’s not just up to us to figure out how to connect the world. There is a, clearly, fast-moving technological revolution going on, both with the internet and with cell phones. A lot of countries that you mentioned, in Africa and elsewhere, people communicate by mobile phones. So the more that happens, it gives us more of a platform. We then have to figure out within the context of what we can do, how do we make sure that those platforms are safe, free, and effective.

MR. CROWLEY: And then from an NGO standpoint, obviously, government assistance can come with some strings sometimes.

MS. HARRIS: It’s why we haven’t applied* – (laughter) – because we do advocate and we do disagree with our own government. It does come with strings and I think the question – my own board had —we discussed it quite seriously – is independence, not being perceived as being part of the United States Government. From an NGO perspective, having this much money available for this work is an extraordinary thing. It’s a gift – happens to be gift we can’t take. But the NGOs overseas have to figure out for themselves the risk-benefit analysis associated with direct assistance or assistance through NGOs that might be direct recipients.

MR. CROWLEY: And to what extent – I mean, it may vary by country by country and region by region, where in some cases there can be market – generally market forces that will propel this forward and obviously then dealing with the autocratic countries that are actively trying to diminish or control access.

MS. HARRIS: So it is different in different countries. I believe in this technology. We’re the Center for Democracy and Technology, but our motto is innovation, freedom and openness. And so opening – the market forces and opening these societies to the technologies has to go hand-in-hand with the forces of training people how to use them, how to protect themselves. And from my perspective, making sure that people understand what I’m calling rule of law on the internet, which starts with traditional rule of law and then goes to these policy levels that start, as I said, way down in standards, bodies all the way up, layer by layer, to the ISPs, to the applications like Facebook, like Twitter, like Google, to the content providers who ride on top of them, to the individuals who ride on top of that.

Getting the policies right are complex, and it’s not the easiest part of – it’s much easier to sort of talk about circumvention technology, which I believe in strongly. But if what we’re going to do is build democratic internets country by country, we’ve got to start getting people in place who are advocates for all of these laws, policies, technological freedom. They all go hand in hand.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would say, P.J., one of the things that’s great about Leslie’s organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is that they do mix the policy and the technical. We’ve got a world of tech savvy people who kind of do their own thing, and then we’ve got policy people, and they don’t connect as much as they need to. We need advocacy-smart, policy-driven organizations that help push us and other governments to do the right thing.

MS. HARRIS: Well, thanks, Michael.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in our audience and some questions that have been submitted to us. I want to go back to this issue of regulation, and if there’s a need for some kind of regulation, who does that? Roger in Florida writes: I’ve read in some news articles that the United Nations wants to regulate or manage the internet. How is the U.S. Government addressing this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We have, I think, a range of anxieties about throwing this issue and many others into the United Nations. We believe in the United Nations; it has a lot of important roles to play. But we have great trepidation that if this became a UN-sponsored initiative, all of the most – all of the governments that have the greatest interest in regulating and controlling content and protecting against dissident speech in their own countries would be very loud voices. So I think we’re looking for alternatives that provide some form of governance but in a broader sense, without the race to the bottom.

MS. HARRIS: Yeah, my anxiety at least as high as the State Department’s on this front. (Laughter.) We’ve done some experiments. ICANN–is one of these experiments in governance essentially a multi-stakeholder body that is not controlled by any government, that run the names and numbering system, the domains. It’s been very, very messy. We’re not – nobody’s comfortable yet with that model. But when we look at the model of turning this over to the United Nations – and specifically here it would be the ITU – we can’t see a good result coming out of that.

And so I think we’re looking for an answer that doesn’t pick a winner. Even our standards bodies that I’ve been talking about were stood up privately by stakeholders; we’re going to have to do a mix of governance solutions public and private;encouraging countries to regulate where it’s appropriate for them to do so in ways that don’t interfere with the free flow of data. I mean, we’ve got countries that are tariffing bits in a way that is difficult just to get the data to flow.

And then we should stand up multi-stakeholder bodies around specific questions – I’m part of the Global Network Initiative, which is an entity for companies to come together with NGOs to talk about their social responsibility, I would like to grow that, like to see more companies participate. But conceptually, it is is not a really a good place for governments to try to get involved. Proposals to do so have not worked very well. And okay, let’s experiment with a , self-governing bodies, government regulation and multistakeholder initiatives, and try to get that mix right.

MR. CROWLEY: But is there a role for the private sector here? I know the State Department, we’ve had some informal conversations bringing business leaders to a country like Syria and said, look, if you actually want to attract significant foreign investment, you want companies to come here and invest here, they’re going to have to have minimum standards to be able to operate. And obviously, one of those would be open connections to the internet because this is how we do business.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah, I would – we had last year a meeting of about 20 big American companies – Bob Hormats, our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; Maria Otero, who is the global Under Secretary – and we talked to them about a kind of common platform for those companies to come together on issues of internet freedom and privacy. The Global Network Initiative right now has only three of those companies: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They’ve been leaders in this. There are a number of other companies that we all know and think of in this space that ought to be part of that initiative and ought to be part of an effort to really figure out the corporate – the private side of this. I think there is an important role for the private sector.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in another question. Maya (ph) W. in the U.S. writes: How can we ensure that the internet will not be shut down again? I was in Egypt during the revolution, and with no internet access, it made things pretty hard.

MS. HARRIS: I think probably Egypt will not shut down its internet again. And I think it’s going to be very, very important early on to get the lessons that came out of that, the lessons for the companies that participated, who had dozens if not hundreds of employees on the ground and understand the choices they made and why. We’re going to look at how the internet is architected. It was amazing in Egypt. There really was a central place you could go and pull a switch. Can’t happen in the United States. We have just too many points coming in and out.

But we have to reach some kind of global agreement about what you don’t do. There have been discussions in the United States about kill switches for the internet for cyber security, and I hope that Egypt is a sobering example in our own debates here. But to guarantee that an Internet shutdown doesn’t happen again is to get an agreement among countries that some actions are unacceptable, whether that’s through high-level norm setting, treaties, I don’t have the answer to that. But a lot more than human rights was damaged by the shutdown. And I think the Egyptians did not begin to understand that.

MR. CROWLEY: Mahmoud (ph) in Bahrain writes that Bahrain is gradually becoming a certified enemy of the internet with wide censorship described as – disguised as protecting citizens from the peril of pornography while the actual sites blocked are any opposition voice during the pro-democracy protests which are just going – still going on as we speak. Seven people have been killed by security forces. The internet has been throttled, making it almost unusable with several black spots, especially in demonstration locations.

How can – what kind of guidance do we give a government like Bahrain? Obviously, they’ve watched carefully to see what’s happened in Tunisia, what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in their neighborhood. How would we guide them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think the guidance has to be the same to everybody. We have to have a universal standard. And the standard is we favor an open internet, an open platform. There are a range of issues country-specific. As Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Bahrain, we’re urging the government to respond peacefully. We’ve very concerned about the violence. And we are dealing with those issues, again, involving protest, but with respect to the internet in Bahrain, in China, in Egypt, in the United States, we believe in an open internet, we believe in a neutral platform, and I think we have to – that has to be principle that guides everything we do.

MS. HARRIS: I agree completely, and I think Bahrain, which has got a more modern economy than many of the other countries in the Middle East, is doing itself economic damage as well as human rights damage. But they’re going to learn, as Egypt learned, that once people are organized, it’s about people. And the throttling of the internet now is too late. And they will learn that lesson, I hope, we just have to keep advocating for what we know is right, which is openness. And once you have openness, you have freedom and you have economic innovation.

MR. CROWLEY: Molly G. (ph) in Washington, D.C. writes: How is the United States Government advancing internet freedom in China? Can it be achieved worldwide?

Now, on China, obviously, you have one of the most economically dynamic countries in the world. And yet, obviously, one that does make certain words disappear when it chooses, including Tiananmen Square. There’s obviously tension there, and it goes back to what you were saying earlier about the different bets that we’re making. But how do we know that China is not right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are doing – we have a relationship with China that includes a range of interests. We have strong economic interests, we have security interests, the human rights issue as well. I think the internet issues and the internet freedom issues transcend all of those interests. And we will continue to. We have – Ambassador Huntsman there has made this an issue that he has pushed out on. He’s met with bloggers. He’s used the internet himself to communicate internally within Chinese and Mandarin – fluent Mandarin speaker. I think our – we will continue to do whatever we can within the constraints of that society to push for more openness. There are a lot of very innovative Chinese activists – internet activists, bloggers – who are determined to get the word out. And they will do – they’re going to be creative, and we’re going to be enthusiastic about their creativity.

MR. CROWLEY: And is there a tipping point here where, as you bring more billions online, eventually, a government and its firewalls – the great firewall becomes overwhelmed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not a technical expert, but it seems to me we’re getting to the level – there are so – the numbers are so great – 500, 600 million internet users, many more cell phones. There’s a point at which – even a very big economy like the Chinese willing to invest a lot of money in this – there’s a point where you just can’t sustain that – the kind of control that they’re looking for. And we can do things diplomatically. We raise these issues in our human rights dialogues and our strategic dialogues.

But I think we’re really looking at a Chinese population, particularly young people, who are using the internet all the time. They’re using it for entertainment, they’re using it for – to learn things about – for their schoolwork, they’re using it also because they want a broader sense both of what’s going on in the world, and they want to talk about political and social events in China. I think inescapably, that’s the direction it’s going to go.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s right. The firewall blocks what comes into the country, and more and more people in the country using the Interenet will not affect whether they have a firewall against the data coming in. What will start to get overwhelmed is the internal dialogue that’s going on among the Chinese, the millions of blogs, and in some ways, that’s even more important The people who are blogging are , as Michael said, sophisticated. They’ve been using circumvention technology and understand where to go to find blocked sites that are mirrored elsewhere. And they’re going to lead that conversation. And in some ways, they’ve already tunneled through the rabbit hole and they’re not blocked in, and they’re speaking to everybody else. And ultimately, it’s people in China using technology that will lead to change. I think that the China model is not sustainable.

MR. POSNER: One of the things we saw that was very interesting when the Nobel Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, the democracy human rights activist last year, obviously the Chinese Government was not – wanted to block and control any discussion of that. Many, many Chinese bloggers made it their business to get that word out. It became sort of a cat-and-mouse game, but there clearly were many, many thousands of people who decided this is something that the Chinese people want to know about. And in fact, they do. There’s a great interest. How did the Nobel Prize committee decide that Liu Xiaobo is the guy who got the award? So there’s something going on within China that we really need to be watching again. It’s not – it’s for us to reinforce and support a genuine Chinese desire for openness and freedom.

And – I mean, we think about someone perhaps sitting at a computer, but with a cell phone, becomes one of the most powerful weapons there is in the world.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, although, we should not pretend that somehow having a cell phone makes you less detectable to the authorities. Phone technology, even beginning in our country, has always had greater surveillance capabilities, data collection capabilities. And some of the kinds of tools that we’ve developed for the internet have not necessarily yet migrated to the mobile environment

MR. CROWLEY: And back to Egypt. I mean, they also – as they shut down the internet, they also were making it more difficult for people to use cell phones.

MR. POSNER: Right. And one of the things, again, on the negative side, one of the things we worry about is not only is there surveillance – demonstrators picked up, they grabbed their cell phone and they get the list of contacts.

So one of the things we’re trying to do, and we’re working with some really innovative technology experts, is to try to figure out what are some of the safeguards and things that you can teach and get out there to make sure that people protect themselves in this wired world where people have lots of information that they’re carrying around with them.

MS. HARRIS: And this is where companies come in as well. Routinely companies hold onto the SMS text, not sure why since – very few people are selling texting by the number anymore. It’s very important for companies to be transparent when the government isn’t. So when people get cell phones, they really need to understand what the surveillance capabilities are, what the obligations are to turn over information. And so that’s part of corporate responsibility. Unfortunately, with cell phones, the same way that it’s hard to even get a privacy notice to somebody, it’s a harder place to get that transparency than on the web. But these are the things that companies have to think about when they’re going into these kinds of markets.

MR. CROWLEY: But a company that wants to go into a vast market like China, the temptation will be there to make compromises.

MS. HARRIS: Well, the temptation will be there, and in some cases the legal obligation. What we ask companies to do is to seriously assess the human rights risk before they go in to a country, to think about whether the products and services that they’re providing might need to be different, whether their data practices need to be different, whether their transparency need to be different, and whether their internal processes need to be different .When the government comes calling and you have a single employee – Chinese national in China, an Iranian – what’s the backup plan?

It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to come out right in every case. We can’t ask the companies to somehow fix what’s wrong with these countries. But we can ask them to make best efforts and for this to be something that’s integrated into the way they do business. That’s what GNI is. It’s not telling companies that they have to always defy the government, because there’s some situations where you can’t. And eventually, the Vodafone story will be told, and we’ll be able to assess what they did or didn’t do in Egypt. There is a lot of learning that comes from these experiences.

MR. CROWLEY: And that’s a case where a company was kind of forced to become –

MS. HARRIS: Absolutely.

MR. CROWLEY: — complicit in the sending of messages that actually contributed to some of the violence there.

MS. HARRIS: Right.

MR. POSNER: This is all part of – we live in – the world’s changing so fast, the technology’s a piece of it. The globalized economy’s a piece of it. And we have to find – we have to create rules of the road for this new – and part of its corporate, part of its government, part of its citizens. But it’s happening so quickly that I think we can’t assume that even the conversation we’re having today is going to be relevant two years from now or three years from now. We have to act – we have to act prudently and smart. That’s sort of what the Secretary was saying – let’s get out ahead of these issues, recognize the power and positive nature of these new technologies as a force for human rights and democracy and innovation, et cetera, commerce, but let’s also be smart about how we do it and try to figure out what those rules can be.

MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps a final question: What lessons do you draw so far from the incredible dynamic that’s happening in the Middle East today?

MR. POSNER: Well, this was a – again, my first lesson is there are a lot of people that have a lot of courage and they have a real desire for – to live in free and open societies, and that drives everything. And these new technologies provides some tools to them that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago and that’s hastening the process of change.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay*, what –

MS. HARRIS: So I agree absolutely. And the third point is that these new technologies are also giving them a glimpse of how other people live in a way that further fuels those desires for a freer life.

MR. CROWLEY: On that note, thank you very much for joining us for another session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Mike and Leslie for sharing their work and their knowledge with us, and thank you all for joining us.

MS. HARRIS: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: And we look forward to seeing you again for a future Conversation with America.


Conversations with America: U.S. Efforts To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, held a conversation with Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, on U.S. efforts to monitor and combat modern slavery.

The discussion was moderated by Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Public Affairs.

Members of the general public were invited to participate by submitting questions, some of which were selected for response during the live broadcast.

This is the ninth in the Conversations With America video series coordinated by the Bureau of Public Affairs, in which the State Department’s senior leadership hosts conversations live, online, with leaders of prominent non-governmental organizations. Discussion topics include foreign policy and global issues and provide a candid view of how leaders from civil society engage the Department on pressing foreign policy issues.

MS. BENTON: Good afternoon. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Welcome to the State Department, and thank you for joining us for the ninth installment of Conversations With America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in a live discussion between a top State Department official and the leader of a nongovernmental organization. Today’s discussion will focus on U.S. efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Our blog DipNote has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from all around the globe. We have selected some of the questions for discussion during this broadcast. Before we begin, I will briefly introduce you to our guests.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca is the Administration’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama to coordinate U.S. Government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery. He serves as senior advisor to the Secretary of State and directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons which assesses global trends, provides training and technical assistance, and advocates for an end to modern slavery. In coordination with interagency partners, the office utilizes diplomatic tools such as the Trafficking in Persons Report – we often call that the TIP report – to highlight current trends and jumpstart multilateral and bilateral action as well as support antislavery programs around the world.

Let me introduce you to Wade Henderson. Wade is an old friend and the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Mr. Henderson is well known for his expertise as a wide – on a wide range of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights issues and is the author of numerous articles on civil rights and public policy issues. Since taking the helm of The Leadership Conference in 1996, Mr. Henderson has worked diligently to address emerging policy issues of concern to the civil and human rights community and to strengthen the effectiveness of the coalition. Under his stewardship, The Leadership Conference has become one of the nation’s most effective advocates for civil and human rights. Today, Mr. Henderson and Ambassador CdeBaca will discuss their efforts to combat trafficking in persons and other human rights violations stemming from that crime.


Before we get started, I’d like to invite our guests to provide a brief introductory set of remarks – Mr. Henderson and Ambassador CdeBaca. Now, Mr. Henderson, could you start us off?

MR. HENDERSON: Well, thank you, Cheryl, and Lou. It’s terrific being here, and I’m honored to be on your show.

Let me say at the outset that I think it’s wonderful that the State Department is focusing on contemporary issues of human trafficking and slavery. Too often, the public sees this as simply an historic problem, one that does not exist in the 21st century, and obviously, we’d be wrong. About 800,000 individuals are trafficked worldwide each year. At any given time, the United States perhaps has as many as 57,000 to 87,000, I think, individuals being trafficked in the United States, and in many instances, forced into contemporary slavery. And we admit somewhere close to about 20,000 individuals who are trafficked each year.

So having said that, this is a contemporary problem. It’s a problem that needs greater focus than it’s received. And obviously, the efforts of Ambassador CdeBaca and the State Department, but also the Department of Justice and other federal agencies needs to be greatly increased. And so we see this as a very important issue, and we’re delighted to have you bring it up today.

MS. BENTON: Okay, perfect. Thank you. Ambassador, could you give us some brief opening remarks?

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Indeed. First of all, thank you for hosting us, and I’m just delighted that I could join Wade Henderson here. I remember meeting Wade, I think, for the first time around ’95 or ’96 when we were talking about some other civil rights issues – police brutality, the rash of church burnings that was happening around the country at the time. But at the same time, the civil rights division of the Justice Department was also doing slavery cases. And I think that a lot of people were surprised not just when the new law was passed in the year 2000 that updated our post-Civil War slavery statutes, but are surprised even today in 2011 that the Obama Administration would be not just talking about this, but making it a civil rights priority.

But I think that, as Wade says, this is something that at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to always be vigilant for this promise that President Lincoln made not just in the Emancipation Proclamation, but about 146 years ago last week when he sent the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification. He was making a promise on behalf of the United States that said slavery and involuntary servitude, in whatever form, whatever label we call it by, should not exist. And I think that promise has to drive us, and it does for me and Secretary Clinton, in our foreign policy as much as it being a promise that it won’t exist here at home.

MS. BENTON: Good deal. Wade, why don’t you go ahead and lead us.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah, well – no, thank you, Cheryl. Lou, I’m so pleased that you brought up the Emancipation Proclamation and what it means in this discussion. As you know, in a couple of years, we’ll celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation – obviously, one of the important policy statement initiatives – both, of course, during the Civil War, but its implications going forward are quite significant. But I think it’s really important for the civil and human rights community to focus on this issue of contemporary slavery.

Look, we are proud to be American citizens, but I think we have to acknowledge that this republic began with a flawed concept, a flawed concept of democracy on the one hand, but ingrained with slavery on the other. And it took, of course, many, many years to resolve that dilemma, and we’re still struggling to do it today.

The Emancipation Proclamation was, of course, an important statement from President Lincoln about his commitment to a republic without slavery. But let’s be honest about it, no romanticism here. It was signed January 1st, 1863. It freed slaves only in Confederate states under the control of the Confederacy. And we recognized that since they had seceded from the union, they were not likely to follow President Lincoln’s edict.

In the North, the provision did not apply. And yet, in Border States and in the North, slaves and committed abolitionists used the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to spur – to spur activism and change. It was at the conclusion of the war, with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed some form of citizenship, that we began to realize our road to a more perfect union. And we are continuing on that road today.

So America is a work in progress. But I think we are able to demonstrate, with the kinds of broad changes that we’ve been able to foster, that it is possible, even in countries today mired with problems of contemporary slavery.

And last point: I think there’s a real distinction between the effort to end slavery prior to the Civil War and efforts to end slavery today. For example, we have a legal system which recognizes that no one should be kept as a slave. Secondly, we don’t have the economic problems that were associated with slavery during the Civil War. We have no state, no country, that’s dependent on slave labor in the way that existed prior to the Civil War. And lastly, there is no moral justification for slavery today. Every country, by and large, agrees that slavery should not exist. The issue is whether they take those edicts and enforce them. And I think, quite frankly, there is a real contradiction between what many of – countries say, on the one hand, and the practices they pursue, on the other.

And then lastly, there are many euphemisms that are used that disguise the contemporary problem of slavery. For example, to call it “trafficking” – to suggest that trafficking, which has an economic and political dimension, is different from slavery, I think miscasts in many instances the conditions of people who live in a so-called trafficked environment. For example, many women are coerced into prostitution and are characterized as sex workers, which, in fact, disguises their role as being exploited victims of human rights violations of the first magnitude. When children are exploited for sexual purposes, they are sometimes referred to as having been pushed into prostitution; children in prostitution. But it is important that we call it what it is and make certain that people understand that indeed, human rights violations of this magnitude can’t be tolerated and can’t be dismissed in economic terms alone.

MS. BENTON: That leads right into –

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think – it’s music to my ears. But I think that it’s – it shows how the American civil rights story is truly a story for the world, this journey that we’ve taken as a country. The man who wrote what became the 13th Amendment was not Abraham Lincoln; it was Thomas Jefferson, when he was writing the Northwest Ordinance to bring Michigan and all those states in. Here’s a man who declared freedom, declared a country based on equality and freedom, wrote what later became the 13th Amendment, and then went home to his staff and servants.

And I think that that’s the thing, is that not only have we had a very conflicted relationship with ourselves in America over these issues of slavery, but also, I think it was Frederick Douglass that talked about you can call it whatever you want to – servitude, the peculiar institution, servants, staff – call it all you want, but it’s going to be the same when you look at the lives of people who were enslaved. I think that’s as true now as it was then, although very different context.

The brilliance of that flawed man, Thomas Jefferson – by the way, the first Secretary of State; we have to give him a shout out. (Laughter). Let’s give him a shout out here. The brilliance of him, even while he was personally flawed, was that instead of just saying slavery won’t exist said slavery and involuntary servitude – and that’s that notion of you can do away with the legal basis, but if people are then using threats, coercion, force, looking at people’s vulnerabilities and taking advantage of it, they are then violating that human right, that constitutional right, even though the legal underpinnings of slavery are long in history. And I think that’s what – to me, it’s that living promise.

At the end of the day, I think it’s very important – and we don’t always talk about it here at the State Department because we’re very focused on the – whether it’s the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, whether it’s the training and technical assistance, et cetera. But this notion of democratization – the 13th and 14th Amendments in American life cannot be separated. The idea that people who were protected from slavery ongoing into the future but also that they were made American citizens, that’s citizenship, and not citizenship writ small but citizenship writ large. What is citizenship? It’s voting, it’s being able to go to school, it’s education, it’s being able to participate in democracy.

A lot of the things that we think of as the civil rights movement, starting in ’47 with Dennis Chavez putting in the equal employment bill that eventually, 14 years later, finally got us to where we needed to go – those things were only possible because for 15 years before that, the nascent civil rights section over at the Justice Department was doing slavery prosecutions while people were enslaved, until the Supreme Court cases that broke the back of the sharecropping system were taken – was taken care of. You don’t have 14th and 15th Amendment jurisprudence, what we think of as the civil rights movement – all the letters that you see at the Library of Congress to Thurgood Marshall and others in the ‘30s are all, “Please Mr. Marshall, help me find my son. They came and said he’d get a good job, he left; I don’t know where he is.” It sounds eerily like what I hear when I go around the world, when I’m talking about a mother in Bangladesh, when I’m talking to a father in the Philippines. They’re saying, “Will the United States help me find my son?” So I think that’s the thing is that we, that pre – that notion of freedom as a precursor for democracy, for civil rights, for human rights.

MR. HENDERSON: Well, you’re absolutely right, Lou. And I think, factually, your statements are correct. But I think we need to put this in context, because I think, for our listeners around the world, it’s important that they understand American democracy for what it is, not what we’d necessarily like it to be, but what we’re evolving into in the future.

Look, the first 15 presidents of the United States maintained slaves and did so until their death without ever freeing them. It took the Civil War, many, many years of struggle with individuals giving their lives to achieve freedom; it took the passage of three constitutional amendments; it took many, many years of Jim Crow laws, laws that discriminate against African Americans because of their race. And we are still struggling to overcome the effect of slavery in this country. An African-American President and a fully integrated Cabinet do not substitute for freedom at its inception. And so the only thing I really want to underscore is the fact that yes, we have evolved into a more perfect union, but it was not a passive evolution; it was a struggle of the most – the greatest intensity.

Now, I would recommend that for those who are listening, there is a place to go to get more information. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio and their website, freedomcenter.org, will offer both historic perspectives on slavery as it existed in this country, but links to contemporary information about slavery worldwide. It’s the most, I think, fascinating connection between the historic and the contemporary that’s available to us today. And I would encourage your listeners to take a look at it because I think it’s very important.

MS. BENTON: It’s fascinating, just fascinating.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah, I think it –

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And one of the things that’s so intriguing to me about what they’ve done at the Freedom Museum is – we see something that’s like the Underground Railroad in other countries. We see in countries that have a lot of guest workers that’s sourced out of South and Central Asia, people who are halfway around the world, they’re in – often domestic servants. If they can get away from the abuse, they have nowhere to go. So there are actual – often church-based, just like in the original Underground Railroad – there are people who are taking them in and helping them and helping them get home.

I think that one of the things that we’re trying to do, as the U.S. Government, is then to say, “Look, governments of the world, don’t outsource this to good-hearted people running a kind of unofficial underground railroad.” Don’t say, “Oh, well, they’re being taken care of because the church is going to take care of them” or “They’re going to – they have a place to escape to in their own community.”

MR. HENDERSON: Yes, yes, yes.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The government has a responsibility then to step in, prosecute the bad guy. This is not a development issue, although it has development aspects. This is an issue where people’s core, fundamental rights are being abused. And so then that government has to step in, help the victims put the bad guy in jail. They can’t just sit back and say, “We’ll let people in the middle of the night escape and find help on their own.”

MR. HENDERSON: Well, let’s take a deeper dive, though, Lou, in terms of who actually makes up this population of contemporary slaves or people who have been trafficked for a variety of reasons. A substantial portion of them are debt traffickers, they’re people who have been trafficked for reasons of debt. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU has perhaps the largest class action lawsuit ever brought on behalf of a group of Indian – East Indian workers in the New Orleans area who came into the United States as guest workers to work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but who have been abused and deprived of wages and put in a dreadful situation. It’s a contemporary problem of how debt is used and manipulated to perpetuate a kind of bondage – a slavery, if you will – that’s really quite disgusting.

Another portion of them, a small portion, are brought in by diplomats. I mean, we’ve seen many instances where the diplomatic corps will bring staff into the United States, and they are virtually in bondage. And in many cases countries, you have a sort of understood system that if you want the advantages of going overseas, you really have to play this role. Colbert King, a Pulitzer Prize winning author – or rather reporter with the Washington Post, wrote about as far back as 2006, and other articles have been written about that.

And then the last group, and a group that I think has been terribly mischaracterized, are women and children that are forced into prostitution. And I think we do far too little to look at the circumstances of women who are – who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in this kind of coerced and abusive circumstance. Many of them are women of color, many of them are brought into the United States with no option. And some who would choose to characterize them as – quote – sort of sex workers or women who exercise free choice – completely ignore the situation in which they find themselves.

And that’s why we and our organization are so strongly committed to the full and effective enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but also to the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This is an international covenant that’s been floating around in the Senate now for 30 years. It needs to be ratified. And women need to be given additional tools to protect themselves. And obviously, when you’re talking about this vulnerable population, they have to be protected with advocates like those in the civil and human rights movement and the State Department.

There’s a wonderful group called, I think the Coalition Against the Trafficking Women. I don’t know their website, but I know they focus with great intensity on the issues of women who, again, through no fault of their own, find themselves coerced and forced into prostitution. And this coalition has stripped away a lot of the euphemisms and sort of characterizations of this condition as the exercise of free will. In reality, it is a human rights violation that should not be tolerated.

And I think when you look at the array of laws that have been passed and that are exercised to help these victims, they’re completely inadequate. I mean, with the exception of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, there are very few initiatives that really provide meaningful protection for the victims of contemporary slavery. The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade has not been an effective tool for handling this issue. I think when one looks at the kinds of civil remedies that might be filed, they’re inadequate.

And while I think the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, the Department of State, a few of the other federal agencies, have tried to coordinate their activity, unless the President issues an executive order that establishes an interagency working group on human rights that would give us an opportunity to require each federal agency to contribute to the effort of coordinating a response, we’re going to continue to be behind the eight-ball in terms of doing anything meaningful for these victims. So I think the U.S. could do a great deal more. I think we need to be outspoken advocates for change, but we need to get our own house in order.

Ratifying CEDAW, I think, is an important step in that direction, and insisting on additional resources being devoted to human trafficking would also be good. But of course, in this time of economic austerity, the deficit, and efforts to cut back on foreign aid by some in the House and Senate, who have a very shortsighted view of what human rights is today, I think we have a struggle ahead of us.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: You know, Wade, last week we were able to meet in the annual meeting of the Cabinet on this. There’s the President’s interagency task force that’s created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and one of the things that was really interesting to me as the secretary for that – Secretary Clinton chaired it, of course – but was the notion that folks who know what the budget outcomes may be this year, that folks who know what the atmosphere on Capitol Hill is saying, “No matter what happens, we’re going to work on this. We’re going to make it a priority.” And I think it’s that notion of it is kind of who we are as a country for good or ill(inaudible), as we talked about, but also that idea that – I’m the first person to say that we need to have the oxygen to play in this area.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The President’s budget is probably going to be different than what Congress wants to give us. And so we know that one of the things we’re going to have to do is to do better with whatever we have. I’m not going to say do more with less.

MR. HENDERSON: No, I understand. I understand.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that that’s exactly what you’re saying, is that this idea of increased interagency coordination so that we can really take it to the next level. The Secretary – Secretary Clinton this morning was asking me about can we take all of the training materials that have been done, whether – Department of Defense has some really good things for their guys.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: DHS has some really good things. Can we, as the State Department, then bring those all together so they’re available to everyone, but then use that as a platform to get it out? And I think that, even going one step further, we’ve talked a little bit about the victims; we’ve talked a little bit about some of the perpetrators. But at the end of the day, this is driven by demand. Nobody is offering a girl or a woman as a prostitute if there’s not a client.

MR. HENDERSON: That’s right. That’s right.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Nobody is having a little kid in Cote d’Ivoire pick that chocolate if we’re not ourselves –

MR. HENDERSON: Yes, absolutely.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I certainly know that the coffee that I drank this morning and the chocolate that I ate yesterday –


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I didn’t even ask. There’s no way for me to look and say, was this picked by a child slave in West Africa?


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that that’s the thing that –

MR. HENDERSON: No, you’re so right. No. Mr. Ambassador, you’re absolutely right, that the U.S. has to really set the standard in international terms about what we see as a significant human rights violation and our willingness to address it. The value of slaves today in contemporary terms is very different than when slavery was practiced in this country prior to the Civil War. The average cost of a slave then was about $40,000. The average cost of a slave from the Ivory Coast today is about $30. There is no desire or need to protect a slave today in the same way that those who ran plantations in the South before the Civil War would have protected. That disparity, that difference in value, has had a significant impact on how we pursue responses.

Now, you mentioned demand and the economic incentives that foster slavery in the contemporary world. And you’re absolutely right. The sex trade that is global in nature is billions of dollars in unregulated funding that, obviously, is the result of a criminal enterprise. And until we are willing to take steps, in some instances, to pursue remedies that perhaps criminalize some of the activity in ways that help to suppress demand, only then will you be able to offer the kinds of protections to some of the most vulnerable victims of slavery today.

There are slaves among us that we would not know to be slaves. They’re walking the streets of Washington, D.C.; they’re walking in our major cities. Some of them may have characteristics that seem to make them unremarkably similar to undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, they speak little English, they’re furtive and afraid to report crimes because of a fear of deportation, they have no health insurance, a host of problems. If they are children, they are additionally vulnerable to the psychological manipulation and pressure that adults bring. If they are women who have been trafficked for sex purposes from other countries, they are fearful about their own circumstance. In too many instances are women then deported if they have been victimized by sex trafficking. There are inadequate protections that exist.

Some of the Scandinavian countries have begun to pursue something I think called the Nordic model, in which they’re looking at ways of sort of criminalizing behavior in the circles of prostitution. That seems to have made a difference. It’s certainly worth looking at. I do know that some in this country, and particularly those who argue a civil libertarian point of view with respect to issues like prostitution – and I certainly believe in free will and free choice – often don’t recognize, however, that those who are – who find themselves on the wrong end of prostitution have not exercised free will. Their circumstances compelled them into the profession from which they can now not escape.

And so I think we must be much more honest, and we need to offer a variety of remedies. Those who talk about civil remedies don’t really understand the nature of the court and how it works and whether that would be valuable. And the few instances where you’ve had successful prosecutions of human trafficking cases, sometimes suggest that we are more on top of the problem than in fact we are. And I think in that sense, there needs to be a greater level of understanding and communication about how we address the issue.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think that one of the things that we see, as far as you mentioned, sort of the issues around the women in prostitution, whether it’s a girl here in the United States, a girl or woman who’s fallen under the spell of a seductive pimp who then controls her, whether it’s a girl that just got off the proverbial boat, one of the things that we’ve seen too often – in the United States we prosecute somewhere around 25,000 men every year for going to prostitutes. And yet, those men are very likely to be able to go to a diversion program, sit through a Saturday where they’re hearing about the evils of prostitution, and it gets taken off of their record.

MR. HENDERSON: That’s right.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: The girls and the women or even the young boys who get caught for prostitution then get prosecuted as prostitutes. There’s no diversion programs for them.


AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: For the rest of their life, they’re going to be branded as having committed a crime of moral turpitude, while the man that was there –

MR. HENDERSON: Has no stigma.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: — is going to, within six weeks, have it wiped off of his record. I think that shows some of the priorities, the competing priorities that –

MR. HENDERSON: No, absolutely. And when the victim is a foreign national, unless they are willing to participate in the prosecution of those who abused them, they are then subject to virtual automatic deportation. I mean, the truth is the system works a harsh penalty on those who are most vulnerable and have been victimized by prostitution and by related problems of the sex trade.

Moreover, I think many Americans view prostitution as if we were talking about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. That’s not the view of prostitution in the 21st century. It’s a sleazy business in which individuals without the adequate protection of the law or the ability to articulate their own circumstances are exploited for economic reasons and are abused in a completely nonromantic setting and circumstance. And I think that before we launch a new round of prosecutions however, I do think a public education campaign to help the public understand the perils of human trafficking and what it means, strip away the illusion that somehow this is a benign, largely economic, in the individualized sense of the term, and really point up the fact that this is a business in most instances that is run by unscrupulous individuals. And unless we are prepared to bring prosecutions for example under the RICO statutes, the racketeering laws for example, using conspiracy statutes to really get to the heart of the trade, then we’re not doing enough.

And lastly – again, I go back to the importance of the – our own government making a statement about how we value women. And until we enact – ratify the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, we are not taking seriously the conditions of women in trafficking and contemporary slavery.

MS. BENTON: This is absolutely fascinating, and I have a question for the two of you. I was curious if – the education we talked about – what is it going to take for the American public, for our public across the waters, to become aware and engaged in and step up so that they can be a part of the solution? Because it’s going on everywhere. We had the earthquake in Haiti. We had a number of people rushing over there to bring the kids back, which on the surface was a great idea. But were those people okay to bring those kids back, or are those kids going to be put into a bad space? So I’m just curious what can we do to bring the public into this a little bit more.

MR. HENDERSON: Well, I have an answer, but I’m going to defer to the Ambassador, because I know you want to speak first.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think that one of the things that, unfortunately, we’ve seen as we ask what does it take, a lot of times it takes a tragedy, and I think we have to get out of that cycle.

In Britain, they passed a trafficking law right after the 2000 UN – what we call a Palermo Protocol, which said that countries of the world should update their slavery laws. They passed a trafficking law that only applied for bringing in women for prostitution. It wasn’t about forced labor. It wasn’t about the migrants. It wasn’t about the factory workers or the domestic servants. It was a very old way of thinking.

Nineteen Chinese men and women died in the ocean. When the surf came in, they were out picking up oysters and cockles and other things like that. They were in debt bondage. They owed a huge smuggling fee to the people who had brought them in. Some of them were even able to call home on cell phones as the water rose. It was one of the most tragic things that’s happened in the UK in decades. Those 19 people died and woke up all of Britain, and now they have trafficking laws that help everybody. Now they have victim protections and everything else.

It shouldn’t take 19 people dying. It shouldn’t take – we’re almost to the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. It shouldn’t take those women having to jump out of that building with their hair on fire for us to then wake up and try to end the sweatshops.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m a total pessimist, because I am very optimistic about this. I think that whether it’s through new media, through awareness campaigns, things that burst through and say, I don’t – we got to get past people thinking, “Okay, well I don’t buy sex, and I’m not abusing my domestic servant, and I’m – I don’t have a factory, so therefore this is not my problem.” Well, the problem is if there’s some guy who I know who buys sex, and I’m not talking to him about that, or if I’m not saying to my buddies, “Hey, that’s not cool,” if I’m not asking those questions about the things I’m buying, then, you know what, it is my problem.

MS. BENTON: You are part of it.

MR. HENDERSON: But you know – well, first of all, I completely agree, Mr. Ambassador. But I also think there has to be a global public education campaign to put the issue of trafficking, the issue of prostitution, coerced labor on the table. The International Labor Organization of the UN has a campaign now against forced labor practices. You’ve perhaps seen the public service announcements on television. They’re terrific. But that needs to be coordinated with a campaign in the United States in which the Department of Labor and HHS and the State Department and the Immigration Service are working in tandem, using portions of their budget devoted to a broader public education campaign. Which is why we think that an interagency working group on human rights, brought together largely by an executive order, could go a long way toward helping to achieve that level of interagency coordination. And it needs to be done with the support of some of the world’s foundation community.

Obviously, their resources are going to be at a premium. But if foundations are willing to pool resources and to adopt a global campaign, and if that campaign is shared by countries that have found themselves in the crosshairs of some of the most difficult trafficking issues today, I think we can make a dent. And you have to, of course, lift up the value of human life. I mean, in countries that are struggling to survive, the exploitation of children is legend. It’s legend. Now, you’re not going to change these practices overnight. But I think, through a coordinated effort, we can make a dent. And I think public education, along with a coordinated campaign of adjustments in our laws and statutes, ratification of treaties like CEDAW, could go a long way toward elevating public understanding of why this is a problem.

MS. BENTON: Great, Wade. I wanted to bring some of our questions in.

MR. HENDERSON: Would love to.

MS. BENTON: We’ve gotten some from around the country. And many interested viewers have submitted those through our DipNote. So let’s take some of those questions now.


MS. BENTON: Lilly W. in Minnesota writes, “In my experience working in Thailand by the Burma border, human trafficking is a massive, massive problem. People are being trafficked from Burma to Thailand. Many of the victims are children and women. Is there any international authority that will protect the rights of these unfortunate people? Will the United Nations offer a solution to this kind of problem?”

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think that, as Wade has eloquently said, CEDAW provides a structure, as perhaps even more operationally so does the Palermo Protocol, the Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons from 10 years ago. And Thailand is a – I think is a signatory. Don’t quote me on that. What I do know is that Thailand has laws against trafficking. They’re actually fairly good laws. But laws have to be implemented. Laws themselves don’t free anybody; they don’t help anybody. And one of the concerns that we’ve had in recent years with Thailand, as is referenced in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, is the notion that cases aren’t being prosecuted, especially among that particular ethnic group.

Now the root cause, of course, is with no other options but to flee the junta in Burma, people are leaving. They’re voting with their feet. They’re also voting for opportunity. So there are, I think, almost 3 million people in Thailand.

The UN agencies in Thailand – there’s a particularly effective working group in the area called the COMMIT Process, which – I can’t tell you what the acronym stands for, but it’s basically a Mekong sub-region working group that brings these countries together. And the UN, through the UN information program, actually has one of the best projects in the world as far as intel is concerned. It’s called UNIAP. The UNIAP program is actually out there at the borders, both on the Burmese border and the Cambodian border. They’re interviewing with the victims, they’re interviewing workers when they come back. They’re giving us a snapshot of how this exploitation works. Without the UN, that doesn’t happen. Without the UN supporting the UNIAP program and creating that baseline information, the Royal Thai Police, those of us who want to help, couldn’t do anything to dismantle these. So we’ve definitely seen the UN projects, particularly UNIAP but also UNODC, UN Development Program, et cetera, really playing up –

MS. BENTON: So they’re impactful.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: They are impactful, but they’re only as impactful as the government will let them be. Because at the end of the day, no international organization – not even a bilateral relationship with the United States – comes down to is a prosecutor from the Royal Thai Government going to call for justice on behalf of that victim? Is the immigration service from the Royal Thai Government going to do the right thing by that woman in trouble?

MS. BENTON: That’s very good. Let’s now take a question from Texas. TLG writes, “U.S. victim assistance, especially for domestic minor sex trafficking victims, has been repeatedly stalled. There are groups struggling to establish safe houses all across the country and provide leadership to the movement. What leadership role can this forum take in calling for a coordinated effort across the federal and state levels that works with public and private ventures in practical ways?”

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. Well, first, let me commend those NGOs, those volunteers who stepped forward to assist some of the victims of trafficking, whether they are minor children, whether they are women forced into prostitution, whether they are laborers who have been denied their basic humanity and the wages they’re entitled to. So I want to commend them.

But having said that, this system of – this network of volunteer assistance is really not the answer to what is an institutional problem, institutionalized problem that requires a greater devotion of resources and coordination than these volunteers can bring. I mean, I think the civil rights division at the Department of Justice – Lou shared with me recently a report that they’ve just issued on the 10th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and their enforcement of that statute. It’s a good report; it’s a good statement of what the Department of Justice has done. I know that they’re coordinating their effort with this network of U.S. attorneys, the 94 U.S. attorneys who serve as an advisory group to the attorney general. That’s a positive statement.

But the religious community has an important role to play. State and local governments have an important role to play. Their human rights and civil rights departments at the state level have important roles to play. There needs to be, again, a greater level of coordination between federal and state authorities and some sort of strategic prioritization of how you attack the problem.


MR. HENDERSON: I mean, obviously, this is a global issue, but some states have a more significant problem than others. And I think, given the limited resources that we have, some strategic consideration of how we attack the issue has to be designed. There is no – it seems to me – no sufficiently global campaign that is focused on these issues using both law enforcement, using policy changes, and using communication as elements of how we put together such a program. So I think, again, the ambassador may be one of the leaders in this area and could contribute to that development.

MS. BENTON: Good. Next, we’ll have a problem from Meredith L. in Washington, D.C. She actually has two questions. The first is: “The upcoming 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is a date that many in the U.S. will commemorate. For both of you, how might the proclamation’s promise and the legacy of the era’s antislavery activists best be honored?”

And second question: “Let’s get into the media on human trafficking. How do we increase awareness? How do we do that?”

MR. HENDERSON: Well, let me say the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we talked a little bit about that. But again, I think it is an opportunity to both create an aspirational goal for the problems of contemporary slavery and to give some hope to the victims of trafficking and slavery today that there can be a successful movement to achieve a freedom which has been so elusive.

I think when you look at the freedom center that I mentioned, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the artwork, the documentation of the problem is inspirational, because it really does help to show what can be achieved even by individuals with limited education, where there’s a burning commitment for freedom. But we have to do more than simply commemorate the day. We should use the Emancipation Proclamation’s anniversary as a period for the recommitment of the federal government to really address these issues in a more fundamental, structural way.

And so what I’m hoping the anniversary might present is an opportunity for the U.S. Government to make a major statement on issues of slavery and freedom in the contemporary world, and really come forth with initiatives that really help to underscore how seriously we take the problem. And really, if the Senate were able to ratify CEDAW by the anniversary, what a powerful statement that would make to women all around the world that we believe in reconciling our practice with our ideals. And that’s something that we have yet to demonstrate sufficiently, in my view.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: It’s interesting. I was – last summer, we took our nephews over to Harpers Ferry, which is where John Brown’s fort where he holed up and was finally apprehended when he tried to start the slave revolts. And one of my nephews is Mexican and African American. One of my nephews is Asian and Mexican. And a few days later, we heard them talking in the back of the car as we were driving around, and Nathan was saying to Isaiah, if that thing with John Brown hadn’t have happened, you’d be building a railroad, and I’d be a slave. (Laughter.)

And it was so interesting to me to hear 12-year-olds getting their heads around what that – what something that happened back then meant to them. And they know what I do for a living. They know that I try to help kids who are in this situation now. But I think a lot of kids their age don’t, and if they do, they think it’s something back then.

And so that notion of not just the Emancipation Proclamation but what then really made it count was the 13th Amendment. So a few months after that, in early 1866, Congress passed a law making it clear that this protection applied to the Hispanic residents of the Southwest who were being held in debt bondage.

And it was the same Congress. They knew what they were doing. They knew it was in the context of the war. They basically at that point said that this anniversary is for everyone. And while the legacy of chattel slavery fell so heavily on the African American community, that notion of a white kid, in a year and a half when it comes time to celebrate this, it’s protecting them. It’s their anniversary.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: It’s our anniversary as a country. And I think that, to me, is that it’s an opportunity for uniting in a way that could hopefully be a very positive thing.

MS. BENTON: I think that’s a story for the media. That’s how the media then gets engaged.

MR. HENDERSON: Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I would recommend two things. One, I think there is a need for a public education campaign. I think the Ad Council, which is known for its campaigns, would be helpful in constructing such an effort around trafficking. But secondly, I think the media is fed by stories. They’re fed by stories of personal tragedy and triumph. And there are stories that are born from the litigation that the Department of Justice brings. There’s stories that are born from the efforts that Ambassador CdeBaca has been able to identify.

My view is that there has to be a more proactive cultivation of the media. The media is not going to come to this issue simply because it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to have to feed them with the kinds of stories that make news. But those stories exist, and they are in every city across the country. And we need to localize them so that the local press can understand we’re talking about my city. We’re not just talking about a city across the ocean or somewhere else. We’re talking about my city.

And I think we can do that, but it has to be coordinated both with the help of government, but also with the nongovernmental organizational community.

MS. BENTON: Yeah, right. And the private sector pitching in, too.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

MS. BENTON: I think we can take one more questioner, and then I think we’re pretty much running out of time. Elizabeth in Ghana writes: “Human trafficking, especially child trafficking, is very real in Ghana. How do we obtain adequate funding and support from the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons?”

Somehow you knew that question was going to come. So, folks are looking for help out there.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And first of all, I’m very happy that we have some international questions as well. One of the things that we have been doing, I’ve been all this week for instance, is going through the funding requests. Each year we do a Request for Proposals. We do a big sweep to bring in themes of interest and we go back to ask for more fulsome proposals. But we get about $400,000 – or $400 million worth of requests, and we’ve got about 22, 23 million that we can actually then fund.

And I think that that’s one of the things that, as we look at that difference, we’ve got to try to figure out whether it’s through linkages, whether it’s through new media, whether it’s through other things, is the groups that we can’t fund, how can we still support, how can we still help them? Whether it’s by putting out kind of how to put together your organization, even just web resources, I think that that’s something that we really want to look at as far as how do we harness the technology, because otherwise 23 million versus 400 million, we’re always going to be chasing this problem.


MR. HENDERSON: Well, I think your answer is encouraging, and I’m delighted that you’ve offered some hope and optimism to our –

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I’m trying to be optimistic.

MR. HENDERSON: I know you are. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Our friend from Ghana.

MR. HENDERSON: I’m going to give you a slightly different perspective. The challenge I think the State Department has is holding on to the budget you have. You will be faced with a severe attack on the importance and value of foreign aid, given the nature of the deficit and the debate that’s taking place on Capitol Hill. You’ll need every friend you can marshal, both in the official government, and you will need the NGO community. And you will need foreign governments that are able to speak to the value of your contribution that don’t appear to be entirely self-serving and are met by other contributions by those governments to address the problem.

Ghana is not the wealthiest country in the world, but Ghana can contribute to the exploitation of Ghanaian children and are willing to do so, and they are willing to step up. I’m always impressed by the NGO human rights community in this country, whether it’s Human Rights First or Amnesty or Human Rights Watch. They all do a terrific job in examining what’s happening in countries other than the U.S.

We’re focusing on U.S. compliance with human rights commitments that it has made. We want to make certain that the U.S. is doing everything it can to both, through leadership and through a willingness to put their resources where they matter most, to do what they need to do. But we are prepared to help in defending the State Department’s efforts in this area because they make a difference. But I encourage you to marshal other forces as well, because I think a failure to do that is likely to result in severe cuts in the coming year.

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: And I think that along those lines, the experience of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire is very telling. Ghana, where the president talked about democracy in front of the parliament, two of his heroes of democratization were a reporter and a policeman who fight against child slavery, fight against trafficking. Go next door to Cote d’Ivoire; there isn’t that kind of support for the NGOs. There isn’t that kind of actors who are addressing this. And so what do we see? A divided election, a president who won’t leave, a country which is going to have to really rebuild itself after the current situation.

So in some ways, how a country is dealing with human trafficking, how they’re dealing with contemporary forms of slavery, is a canary in the coal mine for so many of these other issues. And I think you’re right. That’s a conversation that we need to have with Congress, it’s a conversation we need to have with the world.

MR. HENDERSON: Absolutely.

MS. BENTON: Well, this has been fascinating, and I could sit here for a lot longer, but that does conclude this session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Ambassador CdeBaca and Mr. Wade Henderson for sharing their work and knowledge on this issue with us. Also, I’d like to thank you all for joining us.

Please note the video and transcript will be available on state.gov very shortly. Look for our upcoming Conversations on international disability rights and global water issues. We hope that the series will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging with you again very soon. Again, thank you for joining the State Department.


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